A (literal) gem

The first working laser was developed by Theodore (Ted) Maiman and his assistant Irnee D’Haenens at Hughes Research Laboratories on May 16, 1960. The photograph above shows the ruby laser they created, building on previous work with masers. Pulses from a flash tube cause the pink rod made from ruby to lase red, at a wavelength of 694.3 nm.

Maiman wrote up his work for Physical Review Letters who, in one of history’s worst-ever scientific publishing decisions, refused to print it. Apparently the world’s first laser wasn’t interesting enough – although Nature was happy to run the story on 6 August. Initially the device seemed to be a “a solution looking for a problem,” but today it would be difficult to imagine a world without products like CDs or barcode scanners. Thanks, guys!

Oh dear!

This one is the opposite of a gem. Three scientists have published an article which cites parody site The Onion as a source – for the existence of a children’s menu on the back of the U.S. Constitution (shades of National Treasure!). The journal in question has an impact factor of 4.5, but apparently has some gaps in peer review (thanks to 0xDE for bringing this to my attention).


The alleged menu on the back of the U.S. Constitution, from The Onion

Of course, this is still not as funny as the Sokal affair, or the multiple repeated cases where conferences or journals have accepted randomly generated papers.

Winston Churchill once stated that “it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Peer review is, I guess, much the same.